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Experts Say 'Lost' Crops Can Fight Hunger in Africa

The National Research Council in the US calls for wider research and development of 18 vegetables native to the continent.  Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Scientists around the world are being urged to study and improve native vegetables in Africa. A report from the National Research Council in the United States says improving local crops could reduce hunger and poverty in Africa.

The report lists eighteen promising crops that a committee of scientists chose out of hundreds of native plants. The scientists say plants like moringa, lablab and dika are not only good food resources. They can also grow in difficult climate and soil conditions.

The report, called "Lost Crops of Africa," deals with vegetables. A similar study of grains was published in nineteen ninety-six. Soon to come is a report about fruits.

The report just published by National Academies Press notes that many villagers grow native plants like amaranth, cowpea and egusi. Amaranth, for example, is rich in protein and other nutrients. But the scientists consider the crops lost because they have not been developed more widely.

Calestous Juma of Harvard University says scientists and policymakers in other parts of the world generally show little interest in these plants. Colonial rulers in Africa imported crops like rice, wheat, corn and soy. But Professor Juma notes that some of these crops grow poorly in many areas of the continent.

Moringa is a tree that produces pods, leaves, seeds and roots that can all be eaten. Another crop listed in the report is the bambara bean plant which is highly nutritious. And another one is the locust bean. This tree legume can grow as tall as twenty meters. The seeds become ripe in the dry seasons. The tree is valuable for leaf cover as well as food.

Calestous Juma is co-chairman of an expert committee on modern biotechnology for the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development. Professor Juma says further research on these "lost crops" will help not just Africa. It would help prepare the world in the event of a food crisis in other areas.

Agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug led the committee that prepared the report. He won the nineteen seventy Nobel Peace Prize for a "green revolution" based on improved wheat he developed.

Norman Borlaug was a Rockefeller Foundation scientist for many years. In September, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Gates Foundation announced a joint effort called the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Steve Ember.